Friday, October 16, 2015

Near Death Checks, Part 1

From the July 2012 E-Block.


Not long ago I wrote a review of the book Heaven is for Real, which is the story of an alleged near-death experience (“NDE”) by a small child by the name of Colton Burpo. I evaluated this account as false, based on the inconsistency of the reports with known facts, particularly: The placement of Jesus' crucifixion nails, and Burpo reporting Jesus to be a white Anglo-Saxon (see link below).
Since that time, a reader has initiated a correspondence indicating their own interest in NDEs, citing them as one of the lines of evidence that convinced them that Christianity was true. They noted that there were certainly many levels of credibility to be assigned to NDE accounts, although Burpo's was of the sort the reader found least credible. After some discussion, I decided it would be a good project to investigate to evaluate what were considered the most credible NDE accounts and to see if they could be tested for historical verisimilitude the way Burpo's was.

I chose Michael Sabom's Light and Death (“LD”), written in 1998, for the first part of this series. I am familiar with Sabom as one who, like I, writes for the Christian Research Journal publication, which is why I chose his book as a place to begin.

The result: Sabom offers less than a dozen accounts in LD, and none provide evidence that is unequivocal in terms of my specific target of interest. This does not mean that I have judged the accounts false, merely that they offer little if anything to which I can direct my attention:
  • The NDE account of Pam Reynolds, which Sabom says is regarded as one of the most reliable, consisted of Reynolds perceiving herself as floating above her own body on the operating table. An NDE like this, with no involvement by any reputed divine being (which, in effect, doesn't "leave Earth!") can obviously provide nothing for me to evaluate. Several other examples offered by Sabom were of this nature.
  • Likewise, NDE patients who encounter deceased relatives can offer no basis for the sort of evaluation we are engaging in here.
  • Some basis for evaluation might be found when a person claims to see God or Jesus. If this happens, we may be able to evaluate the experience of someone like Sabom's subject "Darrell." Darrell claims that he was out of his body and that Jesus stood next to him while he was, so-called, "out." Darrell, however, describes Jesus as having "reddish-brown hair" and a "blue T-shirt." [21] The former by itself makes it highly unlikely that the being was Jesus, for as a Semite, Jesus would have had black hair. However, this does not disqualify Darrell's experience in and of itself, because as Sabom points out, many people who have NDEs identify certain beings as "God" or "Jesus," even though the beings themselves make no such declaration and do not identify themselves. Rather, Jesus is only "intuitively identified" [214] by most subjects. Sabom reports only one instance of a subject actually asking such a figure if they were Jesus, and interestingly, though this figure was described in exactly the same terms as others who said such a figure was Jesus (dazzling white, in a robe, a kind, loving look), the being answered this one person by saying they were not Jesus.
    This ends up being the most "detailed" of Sabom's reports where we are concerned. A second experience by Margaret describes Jesus as having "long hair and white robes." This is not specific enough to evaluate. Nor is a person named Bobby Jean who says she met a Jesus with "white clothing" and a "kind, loving look." [94]
In closer looking, we found nothing in Sabom upon which to offer an evaluation, so we shall try again next time. However, I would like to close with an observation that may resolve some aspects of NDEs that have been found puzzling by Christian commentators on NDEs who express concern that even non-Christians have "seen the light" in arguably authentic NDEs.

One of the recurring themes in NDEs reported by Sabom is that a person "seeing the light" (presumed to be God) will reach a certain point and find their way barred or being told to turn back. [68] The assumption is that this is because they are turned back to live longer on earth, which may indeed be the case. But under the rubric of heaven and hell , as either conditions or states of honor or shame, and access to God, these experiences can also be interpreted in terms of even an unsaved person having a view of God, but not being permitted the sort of honor-access a saved person might receive. Theoretically, such a person might also feel the sort of peace and tranquility associated with an NDE, for, if nothing else, the presence of God might reflect that even to an unbeliever -- especially when compared to what is currently experienced on earth, where God's presence (in the Old Testament, "manifestation" sense) is minimal. Interestingly, and a confirmation of this, is that Sabom reports that some "hellish" NDEs have the subject reporting a sense of "eternal nothingness" or emptiness, and "an experience of being mocked." [109]

We will see whether this too bears out with further investigation.

1 comment:

  1. J.P, here's an interesting article about alleged trips to heaven:

    UK Apologetics: Heaven Can't Wait

    Some highlights from the article:

    1. The author makes it clear to distinguish NDE's from trips to Heaven or Hell.

    2. Apparently, Betty Malz's experience (she wrote a book called My Glimpse of Eternity) was a fake after someone did some investigation.